Morning came just as it did before and just like the last time Zack woke up to the early lights and Cloud snuggled up against his chest. He pretty much was clinging to Zack's shirt as if he was a little child who was holding onto a beloved blanket. His face was blank, but still he thankfully looked peaceful and not uncomfortable or in any distress. Zack smiled warmth as he went to ruffle Cloud's hair in order to wake him up like he had previously.
But this time Cloud didn't stir like he had the other morning, instead he remained still and without any expression on his face. Zack tried his best to keep his own breathing at a calm rate as he went to ruffle Cloud's hair again. "He's just really tired from yesterday, we did do a lot of walking after all."
Clearing his throat, Zack thought to finally use his voice, "Cloud, hey you ready to be awake yet?"
Cloud still did not answer him.
Zack swallowed as he scooted closer to Cloud, He could see that he was breathing, thank the planet, but he wasn't reacting or making much of any sound at all. There was the possibility that he was just far more tired than Zack thought, but unfortunately his mind was jumping to other conclusions.
Shaking Cloud, Zack stared to hold his breath. "Cloud! Come on, wake up already!"
He rolled Cloud onto his back and pressed an ear to his chest. Despite seeing Cloud's chest rise and fall, he needed to hear the heartbeat. He needed to find some reassurance. Something to tell him he wasn't going crazy or that there was hope. He needed something… anything.
Thankfully he could hear Cloud's heart beating steadily. But that still didn't answer why Cloud didn't wake up yet. "Cloud! Hey come on man! This isn't funny!"
After a few more shakes, Cloud's eyes opened half way, revealing vacant, green, glowing eyes.
Zack yelped, nearly falling off the bed, "No! No no no! This is not happening!"
He was now cradling Cloud in his arms, rocking him back and forth. His breathing had already jumped right to being rapid and uneven. With his throbbing he finally took a look at Cloud again. He slumped in Zack's arms, his eyes still only half open.
"Cloud! Come on Cloud, please hear me!" Zack shouted feverishly.
No matter what he did, no matter what he said, Cloud did not even react. The only thing that he did 'do' was lay there with his eyes unmoving, clouded by the green mako. It was all like before. Everything second of his blank stare was just like how this had all stared. All those months Zack spent alone with his thoughts, with no one to talk to but himself. He was back to that again unless he got Cloud to wake up, but even now he was getting worried.
"Please…" his voice broke, already sore and scratchy from the sobs caught in the back of his throat. "Please wake up Cloud. I can't deal with this again! I can't be alone!"
Another moment passed but it was all the same. Cloud was taken by the mako again and he showed no signs of being anywhere close to conscious. Tears were pretty much flowing down Zack's face now as he clutched Cloud to his chest. The pain in his heart was hurting so much he could barely handle it. He finally let out another loud sob as everything blurred around him.
Zack gasped heavily as his eyes shot open and he found himself laying back down in bed. With his breathing already increasing he turned to his side to see Cloud sleeping peacefully as he had before. Right away Zack went to shake his shoulder, trying not to be too harsh with it, but it was hard to control his emotions.
"Cloud! Cloud please tell me you're awake!"
He watched as Cloud's face scrunched up with a small groan. His eyes started to flicker open after that and Zack felt a huge sigh of relief when he saw Cloud's deep blue eyes. "Z-Zack…?" he asked, clearly still waking up. "What's… wrong?"
"Oh thank Gaia!" Zack shouted as he lunged forward to wrap his arms around Cloud. He buried his face into Cloud's hair as he kept him close to his chest. "You're all right… you're awake…"
"Of course I am… are you okay?" Cloud asked.
"Yeah… Yeah I'm fine…" Zack said as he lifted his head to look at Cloud. He placed his hand on Cloud's cheek and sighed, "Everything is fine now. Nothing to worry about."
As long as Cloud was awake and conscious there would be nothing to worry about… nothing for Cloud to worry about anyways. Zack had been worried, that was true, but he just didn't need to let Cloud know that. Everything could go back to how it was and there was no need to worry over anything. It was how Zack wanted it and how he thought it needed to be. That was what he indeed kept doing, all he needed to do was remember to breathe and keep the rest to himself.
"You sure? You're still kind of crushing me."
"What? Oh oh! Sorry!" Zack said as he pulled away from Cloud. "But trust me when I say nothing is wrong. Just woke up a bit out of it, but it's nothing. How about I get breakfast started? Sounds good?" Zack jumped to his feet and was out the door before Cloud could even reply.
Now out in the kitchen Zack felt like he could finally have a moment to breath normally. He made his way over to the kitchen counter and started running a hand through his messy morning hair. "It was just a dream… just a really bad dream. Nothing to worry about, don't forget it. Cloud's okay, he is recovering. He's not going to fall back to that state. I'll make sure of it."
With a new sense of relief Zack finally went to preparing something easy for the two of them to eat. He decided to try his hand at something other than cereal today, this time trying to make some omelets. Thankfully the thought of making good food was enough to clear up his mind and move away from the thoughts from before.
By the time Cloud rolled out of the bedroom, Zack had just finished up the seasoning details on the food. He placed the plate down in front of Cloud and took his seat shortly after. "So, how did you sleep last night? You passed out pretty early at the bar."
"I did? Oh I guess I did, I don't really remember falling asleep."
"Nah it's okay, as long as you're feeling okay. Just remember to let me know okay?"
"Yeah I know. So what are we going to do today?"
"I was thinking of heading back to Tifa's bar to help her out. Gotta repay her somehow for helping us get a job and everything you know? Though I think I may wanna try to make a call to Kunsel. I was thinking if I can tell him what's going on, he could prove to be a big help for us."
"Cause he still works for Shinra, right?" Cloud asked in between bites.
"Yup, though I know what he would rather do. Maybe after all of this, if we can really take down Shinra, he'll be able to just relax. All of us could finally just relax…" Zack sighed. "It'd be nice wouldn't it?"
"Yeah," Cloud nodded. "What would we do after though? Would people still need mercenaries?"
"I don't know. There may always be a need for that stuff, but honestly… if we can take down Shinra… I'd like to just sit back and relax. Maybe help Aerith sell her flowers again. You'd like that right? Since you already enjoy being around her flowers."
"Sounds nice," Cloud replied.
"Once Shinra is gone, just imagine it, we could help her set up a little flower shop. She could be the most popular florist in all of Midgar, or even better all of Gaia! People could come from all around to see her flowers. Though… I still gotta keep my promise to her."
"I promised that I would take her to see the sky one day and that she didn't need to be afraid of it. She's lived under the plate her entire life you know."
"Wow… I couldn't imagine that… never truly seeing the open sky."
"Yeah, that's why I am going to take her out there so she can see just how beautiful it is. I gotta keep that promise to her at least…" Zack trailed off slightly, letting his thoughts fall into the fog that was his mind. Quickly he snapped back before he could wander too far off. "But hey! How's that sound? Working for Aerith in a flower shop?"
"I don't know much about flowers… but I guess?"
"Well there are always plenty of other things we could do. Like um… oh chocobo farmers! Yeah I bet you'd be great at that!"
Now Cloud was staring at him with a rather unamused expression. "And what's that supposed to mean?"
"Well you know, you already got the look down, so why not just take care of little chocobos all together?" Zack asked as he chuckled.
"What? You should take it as a compliment Mr. Chocobohead," Zack teased. If he had not been sitting across the table from Cloud he would have easily reached over and ruffled up Cloud's hair. Though he knew he could just stand up and walk over to do that anyway if he really wanted to. In fact… he really did want to.
Getting up he walked over to Cloud and started to mess with his hair all while Cloud was trying to back away without falling out of the chair. "Come on Zack! Cut it out!"
"Nope! Not till I've fluffed you up a bit!" Zack laughed as he continued to mess up Cloud's hair.
Cloud fumbled and slowly tried to push Zack off and away, but he was no match for Zack's determined strength. Eventually he just gave up and laughed as he let Zack mess up his hair, making it look far more messier than normal. "Are you done yet?"
"Hmmm yes, no wait…" Zack pulled a few strands of hair down in front of Cloud's face. He then stepped back and smiled. "Okay now I'm done!"
Cloud smiled back and shook his head. "You're really something you know?"
"Thanks!" Zack stated proudly. "Good to know I am still something! Gotta keep my uniqueness anyways cause ya know normal is overrated."
"I wouldn't want you to change anyways. I like you this way, just you being you."
"Huh?" Zack stared at Cloud for a moment, seeing the blush on his cheeks. "Is he… trying to flirt with me? Of course he is trying to flirt with me! Geez! Why can't I think of anything to say back!"
Zack continued to stare, knowing most likely that he was looking dumbfounded. But for some reason he just couldn't find the right words to say to Cloud, and Cloud's words were so simple too. Some small compliment that was all there was to it.
"Zack?" Cloud asked as he stood up. "You all right there?"
Zack shook his head quickly and stood up straight. "Yeah, perfectly fine. I guess I'm just not all here yet this morning."
"When are you ever all here?" Cloud whispered as he smirked.
"Hey!" Zack shouted before he lunged forward, wrapping his arms around Cloud tightly. "Since when did you get so cocky?"
"I don't know, I just woke up today feeling better. You know? Like my head's more clear or something."
"Aw that's great to hear!" Zack shouted happily. "You're getting back to being normal!"
"I thought you said normal was overrated?" Cloud asked, chuckling lightly.
"Ah! Well I… you're not normal either, but what you're normal is, is really far from the actual normal!"
Cloud started to laugh. "Yeah sure, whatever you say. I guess I gotta take that as a compliment."
Bending over slightly, Zack pressed his face up against Cloud's. "Oh you bet, and there'll be plenty more compliments where that time came from."
"Can't wait to hear them," Cloud said as he stared at Zack. His eyes seemed to fall deeply into Zack's own and for a moment the world seemed to slow down around them.
Zack didn't even realize what was happening until he had his lips pressed up against Cloud's. There hadn't even been a thought to it, he had just done it, but he wasn't regretting and wasn't pulling away. Instead he stayed there for a few more moments until he actually had to pull away to catch the breath he had been holding.
"Um…" he started running the back of his neck as he averted his eyes. He was sure though Cloud could see the blush that was burning into his cheeks. "Sorry…"
"What do you mean why?"
"Like… why are you sorry?"
Zack breathed slowly, trying to find some level of calm before he faced Cloud again. "You know, I just kissed you without asking. I feel like I should have at least asked…"
"I don't see why. I'm not upset… cause you know… I thought we were…" Cloud trailed off as he licked his dry lips.
"Starting to date?" Zack finished again without even realizing what he was saying. But again like with he kiss, it all felt so natural and easy to say it.
"Well you know…" Zack started to say, but after those first three words he stopped.
What was he even trying to say? He wasn't even sure at this point but he knew the last thing he wanted was to upset Cloud. He just needed one moment to breathe, one moment to try and gather coherent thoughts. Just a moment… that was all he needed, and he only hoped it wasn't too long to worry Cloud.
He knew Cloud was special to him, and he was special to Cloud. They had a connection unlike any other and Zack couldn't imagine a time or place now where he would be without Cloud. He had spend an entire year dragging Cloud across the world, not letting him go. If he really put it into perspective he could see how much he had grown since the start. It still came to he a surprise for him, but he was going to try his best to act on what he felt.
"Might as well make it official. Why not go the whole way and say it how you… we fell on it? As of this moment on, I dub us boyfriends."